Sri Lanka Poems by Lisa Albright Ratnavira


Snake Charmer

teenage boys and gypsy men
make their living
fondling venom
cobra’s in baskets
unsheathe, undulate
pythons unyield, unfold
against their bodies
Russell’s vipers escape basket tops
fear requires payment
flutes awaken this
awareness of Eve and
for 200 rupees he will leave….


Sri Lanka

Resplendent Island
filled with rice and tea
smiles for everyone
women with beautifully colored sari’s
sweeping early mornings
children adorned in crisp bright white kits
on their way to temple, to mosque,
to church, to school
Singhalese Buddhist’s amidst Burghers, Tamils
Gypsies, Veddhas’, Malays and Moors
all working, all surviving
despite the war, a people praying for peace
mythology and superstition permeate
a variety of faiths and beliefs
arranged marriages and partnerships
built on love and passion
coexist side by side
elephants, second only to man
work and display majesty as one
Bathing in rivers, rolling in mud
tending to young, yearning to mate
somehow at times preceding man
in living these singular moments
strong wiry men bare bodied in sarongs
working hard, playing cricket and futball
romancing beautiful women
and still there is time to toast with friends
this moment
this island
this belief
in man and beast
co existing in respectful harmony.



Sigiriya Fortress (5th Century 477-495 A.D.)

Striding along water and rock gardens
imagining King Kashapa in all his glory
1,800 steps to his outcrop
with auditoriums, pools, a throne cooled with water,
and advanced archeology
Seeming to absorb his sense
of power, his ill wrought crown.
And yet his brother in just one quest,
to revenge his father’s murder, failed.
Perhaps he was preordained
to be King, destined to build
this very place, ringing with
contemplation and creation
Echoing with the songs, the tempestuous
liaisons, the strategies birthed here.
Today it is the 2nd greatest attraction for tourism,
only the elephants precede
A singular reminder of 2nd choice, of a son
lacking entitlement earning the respect
of generations, of centuries
to come and pay homage
to the powers of defeating caste
with ambition.




Ayuvedic Massage

I am greeted with Ayubowan
and enter my room.
My masseuse, Ruwani,
which means beautiful girl,
gestures for me to disrobe
and asks me where I am from
her smile lights the room
encourages my vulnerability
she wraps me in a sarong
and massages my scalp
with sandalwood oil
With care she begins
massaging away the aches and pains
from hiking Sigiriya’s 1800 steps
my once tight calves resist than relax
beneath her strong and healing touch
when she pops my toes I laugh
and when she notices my c-section scar
she shows her friend
a rarity in their country
her compassion that my babies did not fit
is evident in the gentle undulations
upon my belly, I relax
releasing my insecurities
into the surety of her kindness
her massage of arms, legs
breasts, buttocks is healing
with a touch so confidant
so caring, years melt away
as I am touched once again
as an infant in the tub
sheer joy; fears are yet unknown.

Sighing with satisfaction
I am led by hand into
the sauna with leaves and charcoal
melting away toxins
I meditate on Ayubowan
“may all beings live long”
and still my excesses
saturate the sheet I am wrapped in

Her smile arrives and she leads
me to a steam chamber
water and coals my body enclosed
and she massages my face
with avocado cream
then gently places the sheet over my face
for a steam….


Again thoughts of dreaming
moments of gratitude enter
as stresses depart and vaporize

The last moments of redress
and bowing to Ayubowan are
lovingly served and satiated
with 25 herbs in my tea.

I, convinced I am dreaming,
extend my gratitude with
the 1700 rupees. An awareness
of healing, a self image sorely
lacking the kindness of a mother’s touch,
and I exit a woman capable of childbearing,
of nursing, of accepting this vessel
I am awakening within.


*1700 rupees=$15.50 US Dollars)




Water without warning
Laughter lost, love lingering

The yin-tragedy
Motherless daughters
Sonless fathers
The yang-a glimpse of world peace

Generosity without agenda
Gratitude without grudges

Universal healing evident
In a borderless mourning.

Lisa Ratnavira Jan 2005



To the Lady Sewing at Night in a Red Room

The sun has gone to sleep
your children are home from school
chores done, dinner served
and now resting peacefully
tucked beneath a pink mosquito net.

You have cooked, swept, washed
their white uniforms in the river
ironed them, prepared their
evening meal
all in a beautiful blue sari
with your captivating smile
and long dark tresses cascading
your smooth sun kissed skin

I see you.

I have you deep in my subconscious.

I struggle with my definitions
of femininity, of a woman’s role
as I drink you in with my eyes;
with my heart.

You are the mother I dreamt of.
You are the mother I aspire to become.
My children-loved and healthy-
have a mother who works while they are in school.

I hear of European men
struggling with powerful, accomplished women
tired of empty homes and cold unmade beds
come to your village, choose a
Singhalese girl to wed
uprooting her from this
tropical, spice laden island.
In her isolation, she withers and fades.

You are still stitching
earning extra money for your family
filled with your communal
definition of being the lady of the house.

Your womb-fulfilled
your breasts-touched and suckled
your hands-held and calloused
your hair-long and brushed
your wrist-adorned with string
a symbol of wakefulness
your eyes-content with loving.

Oh beautiful, Rashmi
with every colored silk you stitch
memories of love
of holding your loved ones
guide your experienced hands
encourage your steadfastness.

For you, men are not your competitor
they are your protector, your provider
your role since 5th century B.C.
is one of honor.

What can I bring to our 200 year history?
How can I bridge this ethereal beauty
with our barren progress?

I feel your beauty, your strength
your creativity
in that red earth room.

I salute you. I celebrate you.
I take you home in
the canyons of my being.

Lisa Albright Ratnavira




A child approaches
waters the sacred bo tree 7 times
7 wishes, 7 pledges, 7 promises to awaken

Alighting the nearest branch a paradise flycatcher
looks upon this child
with the tenderness of a Buddhist monk

The child's prayers surround
the robes of the flycatcher
a monk's robes
donning a spiritual being
the middle path widening to include

Tree, bird and child
wrapped in the wishes
of innocence

Blessed by the waters
of tranquility
the beauty of maroon orange
feathers, robes sarong
wrapped in unity
transformed and melded
into peace.

Lisa Albright Ratnavira 8-16-07